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Herb Rothschild Jr.: One degree of Blake Farenthold

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a parlor game created in 1994 by three college students. Premised on the notion that any two humans are no more than six acquaintances apart, and also that Kevin Bacon claimed in a 1994 interview he had worked with just about everybody or their colleagues in Hollywood, the game starts with an arbitrarily chosen Hollywood name and the players must trace his/her connection to Bacon. My wife, Deborah, it so happens, is herself only two degrees of separation from Bacon.

I’m only one degree of Blake Farenthold, the disgraced congressman from Corpus Christi. In the eighth grade I fell in love with his mother-to-be, Mary Sue, and we dated off and on until she married Blake’s father-to-be in 1960. Randy Farenthold was the spoiled heir to a cotton ginning fortune. Some years after he and Mary Sue divorced, Randy was found dead in Corpus Christi Bay wearing concrete overshoes. It seems he had fallen on hard times and agreed to help some mobbed-up gangsters in an illegal scheme. But Randy backed out and was cooperating with the feds, so he was silenced.

I last saw Mary Sue before Blake, whose prior political experience was hosting a right-wing talk show, won his congressional seat in 2010. I heard that she was proud of him, but she died about four years ago, so she hasn’t had to endure the scandals engulfing him.

I’m one degree of Blake in a different way, through Frances “Sissy” Farenthold. Sissy was a pioneering figure in the movement of women into electoral politics in the late ’60s and the ’70s. She entered the Texas House of Representatives in 1969, the only woman serving at that time. Sissy’s name was put into nomination for vice president at the Democratic convention in 1972, winning 404 delegate votes. That year and in 1974, she almost won election as Texas governor. In 1973, she was elected the first chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Sissy’s later career involved serving as president of Wells College, as a member of Helsinki Watch and as a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. It was her human rights work that brought us together. In 1991, we met in then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s Houston office to lobby for an end to U.S. military support of El Salvador’s murderous ARENA government.

From that time until Deborah and I moved here in 2009, we and Sissy were friends. Besides the politics, we had Mary Sue in common. Sissy had married George Farenthold, Randy’s father, in 1950. They divorced in 1985, but she kept up with the family. I’ve had no chance to learn what she thinks of her step-grandson.

Why people form their political views interests me. What could be more striking than the differences between Blake and Sissy, both from the same milieu? Could it be that Sissy was from a line of country lawyers and judges, whose work exposed them to a wide range of human conditions and repeatedly posed the question of justice? Could it be that as a woman making her way in a world controlled by men, to Sissy that question was personal? Could it be that Blake’s upbringing insulated him from recognizing the hardships and injustices so many people experience? Could it be that wealth spoiled him, as it had spoiled his father?

Our current politics can’t be separated from the matter of money. We need to talk about money.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.